Bentonville, Ark. — Retailers are voicing support for the Wal-Mart-led change in the laundry detergent category, but they say a major education campaign is needed to explain how to use the new concentrated products headed for store shelves.
Wal-Mart announced last month that it will sell only eco-friendly, ultra-concentrated liquid laundry detergents in its U.S. Wal-Mart Stores and Sam's Clubs.
All Wal-Mart stores will convert fully to the smaller bottles by May 2008. The rollout will include such brands as Tide, All Small & Mighty, Wisk and Purex. Most major detergent suppliers are expected to convert their lineups to the new formulations within the next year.
“What we have done is work with suppliers to take water — one of our most precious natural resources — out of the liquid laundry detergent on our shelves,” Wal-Mart President and Chief Executive Officer Lee Scott said at the Clinton Global Initiative, held in New York last month. “We simply don't want our customers to have to choose between a product they can afford and an environmentally friendly product.”
The new 50% compacted, or “2X,” liquid laundry detergents use less water in their formulations than standard liquids, resulting in plastic bottles that are about half the size of their traditional 100-ounce counterparts. Most are touted as being able to clean the same number of loads — about 32 — because they require about half as much detergent per wash.
Procter & Gamble's new 2X Ultra Tide, for instance, uses up to 43% less packaging and contains up to 44% less water than regular Tide.
Wal-Mart is making the change for the good of the environment, Scott said. The retail giant expects to sell more than 800 million units of concentrated detergent over the next three years, a move it says could save 95 million pounds of plastic resin, 400 million gallons of water, 520,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 125 million pounds of cardboard.
Hy-Vee Food Stores, West Des Moines, Iowa, already carries a few of the 2X concentrates, and it thinks they're a good idea, company spokeswoman Chris Friesleben noted.
“We certainly are a company that looks for ways to be earth-friendly,” she said.
Wegmans' senior vice president of consumer affairs, Mary Ellen Burris, agrees that concentration makes sense.
“Smaller bottles take less petroleum to make, and more of them fit in a cardboard box and on a truck,” Burris wrote in a recent consumer column. “In fact, twice as many bottles can fit on a truck when you take out half the water.”
Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans is jumping on the 2X trend by offering Wegmans-brand Advanced 2x Laundry Detergent, now on store shelves.
Burris has assured shoppers that the movement to 2X isn't just a way for manufacturers to put the same product in a smaller package, but keep the price the same — a tactic that has occurred in cereal and other categories.
Burris also stressed the need for consumers to read directions before using the new products.
Indeed, the new slate of detergents will require a change in laundry-room habits. Nearly half of U.S. consumers say they have never read the directions on a package of laundry detergent, according to a 2003 study by the Soap and Detergent Association, a Washington-based trade association. The reason: About 43% of respondents feel they simply don't need directions for doing laundry.
The SDA explains how to use the new products in several thousand newsletters it's distributing to consumer educators and writers.
“It's difficult at times for consumers to change their habits, so it will be key to communicate messages about proper dosing,” SDA spokesman Brian Sansoni said.
Wal-Mart is alerting the public to the change in print publications, on Wal-Mart TV and at walmart.com. It is also notifying its store employees.
Dan Piron, grocery manager of Green Hills Farms, Syracuse, N.Y., said the new bottles not only help the environment, but also retailer planograms, because the smaller bottles require less shelf space.
That's especially beneficial to retailers like Green Hills, whose single store is 23,000 square feet, said Piron.
But like Burris of Weg-mans, Piron questions whether shoppers will immediately understand how to use the new concentrated detergents.
Green Hills isn't doing anything on its own to educate shoppers about dispensing instructions, saying it's the manufacturer's responsibility.
Manufacturers are in fact doing their part. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, for instance, has already used shelf signs at Wal-Mart explaining how to use its new 2X versions of Tide, Gain, Cheer and other brands. “Use half as much. Clean the same number of loads,” the signs read.
Unilever U.S., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is running a major consumer education campaign for its new 2X versions of its Wisk and All, according to Helayna Minsk, Unilever's laundry brand-building director.
Unilever launched a three-phase national rollout for 2X last month in the South. The effort will conclude in the Northeast in April 2008. The new products will eventually replace all of Unilever's traditional, or 1X, liquid detergents.
“It's going to become harder and harder to find 1X products,” Minsk said.
While there will be a learning curve, she is confident consumers will adapt to new laundry practices.
“When consumers understand that the smaller bottle cleans the same number of loads, it's an easy leap [to 2X],” she said.
Along with providing dosing directions on bottles, Unilever is distributing information about the new detergents via in-store and direct-mail materials.
Unilever was one of the first major manufacturers to come out with an ultra-concentrate when it launched All Small & Mighty in 2005. Small & Mighty is a three times, or 3X, concentrate, and contains enough detergent in one 32-ounce bottle to wash the same 32 loads as a 100-ounce bottle of regular-strength All. A 3X version of Wisk followed in April 2006.
“The move represents on a large scale the continuing evolution of products that provide value while reducing the industry's environmental footprint,” said Sansoni of the SDA.
Sansoni predicts similar changes in other cleaning-product categories.
BENTONVILLE, Ark. — A single bottle of ultra-concentrated laundry detergent has about half the water and 20% to 40% less plastic in the packaging than the standard concentrations.
Wal-Mart accounts for about 25% of the liquid laundry detergent sold in the United States. By selling only double-strength concentrated detergents, Wal-Mart says that over three years it will save:
Wal-Mart began converting to the new detergents last week in the South, will continue in the North and Midwest in February, and will finish up on the East Coast in April.
In other news, “Live with Regis and Kelly” co-host Kelly Ripa and her husband, actor Mark Consuelos, are appearing in television and online advertisements for Procter & Gamble's new 2X Ultra Tide.
“My mother used Tide, and it's been in my family forever, which is why I'm excited to use this new concentrated version,” Ripa said in a statement. “2X Ultra Tide helps get rid of tough stains and it even comes in a smaller, more convenient bottle.”